Education in Belize: Enthusiasm! How long can/will it last?
by Gustavo Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant /

A family member of mine recently commented to me how very enthusiastic his youngest son is to be returning to Primary (Elementary) school this week, after a long summer vacation away from school. My first thought about that comment: How wonderful to see a young student enthusiastic about returning to school to continue disciplined learning! My second thought: I wonder how long that enthusiasm will last… My concluding thought: What should we educators and parents keep doing to instill and maintain that enthusiasm for learning in all students, everyday all year long?

It is very sad that today Education and learning do not always conjure thoughts or feelings of enthusiasm in many students and/or parents. However, we are living in a difficult and complicated age now in the 21st Century, not in Utopia – whether we live in Belize, a Third World (underdeveloped) country, or in a developed country. When the majority of working parents must think of Education (especially Secondary) for their children in terms of, “How will I be able to afford tuition, books, fees and all the many expenses just to register my child for a new school year?” there is not much room left for enthusiasm about learning. How then, do we adults, parents or educators, feed our children with enthusiasm for school and learning, no matter at what level they may be studying, and keep it alive and robust all year long?

Politicians and policy makers of Education generally concentrate on budgets and costs per student; educators concentrate on using successful methods of teaching and on setting a proper and detailed curriculum to help students advance each school year; parents concentrate on making sure students attend school daily, and on finding ways to pay for their children’s education; students are encouraged to concentrate on disciplined learning. However, the one goal that we all (politicians, educators, parents) share is to keep doing whatever it takes to make sure students enjoy something about being at school, especially in the classroom. Parents, just as much as teachers who work with students daily in the classrooms, equally share this sacred responsibility! Parents who show no interest whatsoever in their children’s “life at school” will instantly kill whatever enthusiasm a student may have for learning, and for being in a classroom to learn something new everyday. So, p l e a s e, I strongly encourage all parents, starting this very first week of school, to set the tone for your children and share in their enthusiasm for whatever they may learn in school everyday! Keep in touch regularly with your children’s teachers, and stay abreast of their achievements (and their most difficult times) at school, and you will help much more than you may realize to keep that enthusiasm for learning alive and robust all year long in students!

There are always excuses; however, excuses will always be excuses -- nothing else! Having been an educator since 1978, I have heard them all. Parents: I don’t have the time. I must concentrate on making the money, and work my … off everyday to pay for his/her education. I never went to school, so why am I expected to know what he/she is doing in school? What more do you expect from me? I am not God! Teachers’ excuses may run along these lines: It’s not my problem if he/she does not want to learn. Let his parents worry about him/her; I am not the parent. My job is to teach; that’s what I am being paid for – nothing else. If his parents can’t handle him/her, how am I supposed to handle him/her? There’s only so much I can do, especially in such a large class. Politicians: We spend so much money on Education – more than any other Cabinet Ministry or Department! What else are we supposed to do? We cannot learn for them! Stop blaming us, and thank us for all the money we spend on your children. So then, if we all have so many other pressing responsibilities, who should be responsible for, or will ever have the time to instill a love of learning in our children? Really though, after everything is said and done, whose problem is it?

There are entire volumes of books written today about the “difficult” student, and how he/she should be treated at school to best help him/her learn. However, I believe strongly that long before any student ever reaches the stage of being “difficult”, or ever gets placed into that category for whatever reason, a genuine love and enthusiasm for learning from an early age would keep him/her inspired enough (fired enough) to like something/anything, no matter how small, about being in school. Many students love sports, or participating in other extra curricular activities at school. It would be great if we could somehow manage to spread whatever enthusiasm they may have in one area throughout all areas of their entire school career. Perhaps that's why students in vocational or trade schools often do well: they enjoy what they do! Hence, my loud and continued cries for ongoing reform in schools today so that students will be able to embrace and remain enthusiastic, no matter to what degree, about whatever they may be learning, or may be required to learn.

Finally, I want to make it quite clear (once more) that we cannot ever pressure anyone to be enthusiastic about learning. That’s simply not possible. However, whatever reform(s) in Education that we all work toward achieving, starting today and especially in Belize, must ensure that students always are encouraged to have/maintain some form of overall enthusiasm for learning – in disciplined and undisciplined ways, inside and outside of school. We are now living in a digital and highly technological age. Our challenges in learning today are NOT the same as those from yesteryear. For those who insist on living in the past: Wake up and smell the Sanka! For those who are not afraid to face the present: Wake up and smell the coffee!